"How do you feed them all? It must cost a fortune!"
Wow, we hear this a lot! We hear it from strangers when we are all out together. We hear it when we are checking out at our weekly shopping trip. We hear it from our own families too!
We have a few things in our favor. We have the benefit of an economy of scale. I can cook in big batches. We never need to worry if we will finish a larger size before it spoils. In fact, because my husband works in the restaurant industry, we have access to restaurant supply stores where we can purchase items at close to cost. Some of these are open to the general public also! It is great to be able to buy food by the case at wholesale prices. There is a lower cost of living here also, although we have been lucky enough to find good shopping options everywhere we have lived. My kids are generally not picky. Certainly nothing I did to cause that, but it helps that they are adventurous eaters who don't have sensory issues limiting their diet. We do have a few intolerances, but I am accustomed to working around them. I also try hard to make sure our diet is pretty healthy, but it's not perfect. We eat tons of fruits and vegetables, good proteins and fats, and a variety of healthy grains and carbs. We eat occasional convenience food too.
We aim to spend about $50-75 a week on fruits and vegetables, $50 a week on meat, and $100 on everything else. Sometimes it comes in higher, sometimes lower. We spend probably $150 a month on toilet paper and diapers and wipes and bed mats.
Avocados and melons by the case, plus sour cream and cottage cheese, instant breakfast mix, and dishwasher detergent. We were without a dishwasher when ours broke after we moved in. I am very, very thankful to have one again!
We get a few things at Sams. Pancake mix for my husband's world famous pancake breakfasts, popcorn for movie nights, cans of pork and beans to go with hot dogs or hamburgers, nacho cheese to make up for our otherwise healthy diet, sour cream, instant breakfast mix (Our doctor recommended we mix this with milk or add it to meals to increase calories for Evan when he first came home, and we still use it occasionally.), Miralax, diapers (in practically every size), toilet paper and dishwasher detergent.
Case of sweet potatoes, case of chicken breasts, ground turkey in those tubes, diapers, toilet paper in the back, and a case of chef boyardee raviolis for emergencies. (Emergencies like I really don't want to cook tonight. Ahem.)
Aldi has good prices on produce, canned goods, and our occasional chips and snack foods. I like their chex mix, but you can guess how often I can finish a bag without sharing! Sometimes I call that "the large family diet." All those keen little ears hear the rustle of chip bags, so I end up eating a reasonable portion instead of the whole bag! We buy some canned vegetables by the flat, like creamed corn, frenched beans and spinach. We buy instant potatoes and applesauce to mix in foods for Evan, to thicken them or thin them depending on what he needs. We buy cheese, yogurt, milk, lactose free milk, and almond milk.
This whole shopping trip was $150! There are nearly 200 pounds of fresh and frozen vegetables, 50 pounds of rice, tons more stuff. And too funny, sometimes we call Barton "the silent assassin." He moves SO quietly. He snuck into the back of this photo and I didn't even notice it until later!
We use a bakery outlet for bread and rolls. Their prices are great, the quality is good, and they always remember us when we stop by. I used to bake my own bread. Sometimes we still do for fun, but we just aren't in that season of life right now. So the bread store it is!
We shop at the restaurant store. What do we buy? Pasta and sauce are great here. We can buy a 20 lb box of high quality pasta for $13. We buy marinara sauce in cases of 6 #10 cans. Same for diced tomatoes, tomato purée, and so on. We buy tuna in cases of 5 lb cans. When we say we only use half a can for a meal, this is the can we mean! We buy sugar, flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, pinto beans and rice in 25-50 lb bags. $2 a pound is my cutoff for meat prices, but it gives us a lot of options. We can buy a few kinds of fish, ham and pork, smoked sausage, ground or whole turkey, and all kinds of chicken. Chicken quarters go as low as 30 cents a pound. We can buy 15 dozen eggs for $12. We buy fresh and frozen produce by the case. We have a huge chest freezer where we store everything. We also have a second fridge for fresh produce. Things like apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions sit on a rack in our kitchen. We go through food pretty quickly, so we don't have too much spoilage.
50 pounds of carrots, 50 pounds of cabbage, 50 pounds of steel cut oats, and my ever present photography assistant!
We look at whatever is on sale that month. In March there was a sale on cabbage because restaurants were cooking St Patricks Day meals. Our kids ate 100 pounds of cabbage without batting an eye. Cabbage salad (like cole slaw), borscht, cabbage roll soup, a Thai recipe the kids like that is served with cabbage quarters, and on and on. We only made Irish cabbage and potatoes one time, come to think of it! To give an idea of the variety those sales give us, in the last couple weeks we have bought cases of avocados, green beans, snow peas, kale, leeks, okra, canteloupe, and more as special sale items.
Snow peas on sale = stir fries! Half of them disappeared out of the box before I could cook them though. I wonder where they went...
To make things easy, we have a few typical breakfasts and lunches that we cycle through. I make some amazing granola from rolled oats, quick oats with milk or maple syrup are fast to make for everyone, eggs and toast on the griddle are easy, and my husband makes stacks of pancakes on mornings he is home. Since we are usually homeschooling during the afternoon, lunches are mostly light and quick. We often do sandwiches with fruit and cheese for everyone, with a batch of sweet potatoes or pasta or other carbs to fill up the bottomless pit teenagers. Dinner could be anything, but there is always plenty of it!
I use some less than gourmet shortcuts. I make our "tuna noodle casserole" in a pot on the stove with regular pasta, adding tuna, frozen peas and cream of mushroom soup when the pasta is done. Shhhh...don't tell my kids how it is usually cooked! I do a few crockpot recipes in a pot on the stove too. I mix frozen corn, black beans, rotel and cilantro to make huge batches of "salsa" for everyone to share. I've moved to mixing up and baking my granola in a turkey roasting pan instead of on flat cookie sheets. Most of the time cooking for our crew doesn't take too much longer than if we were cooking for fewer people. An oven full of chicken only takes a few more minutes to cook than a single pan. Cleaning everything up does take longer though! Once again, so glad to have that dishwasher!
Right now Evan eats regular food with the rest of the family. He can eat things like rice in gravy just the way it is, but other foods need to be pureed. We bought a mini bullet blender when he first came home and it has served us well, but it is on its last legs. Daisy eats the same kind of food right now, and another child we are hoping to add to our adoption drinks from a bottle like Evan used to. I think we are planning to replace the mini bullet but also buy a large bar quality blender to be able to make bigger batches at a time. I thought that Evan's different meal needs would be a big issue when we adopted him. It took a long time to help him learn to eat new foods, but preparing his food and feeding him wasn't hard at all once we fell into a routine.
Our kids have some every day chores and some that rotate. It is important to me that our kids don't feel like they have to do the extra work resulting from the decisions my husband and I have made to have a large family. Our family dynamic is that everyone pitches in and helps. With so many hands to help, everyone does their own small job and it is done quickly. One of the rotating jobs is "kitchen helper." You might be able to guess that sometimes my helpers create more work for me! It is still fun for everyone to have their own turn to plan a few meals and help in the kitchen.
Theo was my assistant last time we made borscht! He was very excited. He loves helping!
I hope this gives an idea of how things work for us now! We can't wait to fit a few more plates at the table! And speaking of tables, we are also working on a new custom designed table that will be easier for the wheelchairs! So cool! I can't wait to share that with you guys too!